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Marine Life & Conservation

FINished with Fins

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I’m Sharon Kwok, a Eurasian American born in Hong Kong but growing up in both places. Consequently I’m in a position to appreciate both cultures. Until recent years, every banquet I attended seemed to include shark fin soup. Although the exact origin of this ostentatious dish is shrouded in mystery, we do know it had to come from China’s southern coastal regions, and it was never a favourite of the Northern Chinese. Therefore l doubt the truthfulness of claims that it was a fancy dish created for the Emperor; perhaps it was a fancy marketing ploy, but we’ll never know for sure. I’ve heard a version of shark fin soup’s origin being simply the fishermen’s frugal use of their catch. In bygone days, any obviously useful parts would either be sold fresh or salted to survive a trip to inland China. Thus, they figured out a way to make the fins edible, then palatable via the tasty ingredients used in the broth because the fins are virtually tasteless but for their fishiness.

Over the past several years, concerned parties have noticed a dramatic decline in sharks. So while businesses who deal in shark fins try to catch as much as possible while they’re still around, conservation groups are doing their best to preserve the species. In a bold move, on June 30th 2010, Hawaii started an avalanche of legal opposition to this Chinese dish; very appropriate seeing as their native population respect not only sharks but also their Shark-God ‘Kamoho’. In 2011, I was involved with lobbying for AB 376, California’s ban on the trade in shark fins. This bill was met with serious and well funded opposition due to the size of the older Chinese community in California, many of whom have business interests in the restaurant or dried seafood trade (a trade which often stretched to Asia due to much of the fins from southern American seas funnelling through California). Governor Jerry Brown signed AB376 in Oct 2011 and even after several legal attempts to overthrow it, it holds fast. This movement went swiftly to other states and even countries but the most opposition is in Asia. Living in Hong Kong, I’m at ground Zero of the trade. Fellow advocates and l try to affect change wherever and however we can, from convincing hotels to opt for ‘fin-free’ menus to pressurising airlines to stop carrying them. We also raise awareness via education in schools or raise public awareness through media. As a whole, we are thrilled to see results and sometimes, big changes such as the latest big coupe in Asia which saw Bruni’s Sultan effecting a national ban of all catch-and-landing of sharks this June.

Sharon Kwok shark fin freezers Hong Kong 2011

The reason for all the fuss isn’t merely humane issues although that should be a strong enough one because most fins come from ‘finning’ rather than as a by-product of fishing. Finning is when sharks are caught only for their fins and their bodies are thrown back into the ocean to die a torturous death. This happens because there are insufficient regulations. Fisheries that target fins send their massive boats out to collect as much high yielding goods as possible, and while a pound of perfectly edible shark meat might sell for a few U.S. dollars, a pound of premium fin could sell for a few hundred. Since many large shark species take decades to reach sexual maturity and bear but a few young infrequently, these apex predators do not multiply quickly enough to cope with the insatiable demand…and because dried fins can be kept indefinitely, fisheries will literally take all they can for the unsustainable trade.

Perhaps a more important reason for putting a stop to this is the preservation of our oceans as we know it. Sharks have been here since pre-Jurassic times and they are a vital link that maintain the biodiversity of our marine ecology. We know that they’ve never come under the level of predation they’re currently suffering and their numbers are in obvious decline, but we don’t know for sure what their disappearance will mean to us. However, do we want to risk it? Dare we? Our oceans cover well over three quarters of the Earth’s surface. It helps maintain our climate as well as providing us with water and much of our oxygen. We are custodians of our resources so that future generations may enjoy them so at this time, one of the most  responsible things to do is to say ‘NO’ to shark fin soup.

Sharon Kwok was born in Hong Kong of a Chinese mother and an American father of Germanic descent. She has taught arts at the Asian Arts Institute, enjoyed a career in acting (and has appeared in over a dozen films as well as worked at T.V.B., RTHK, and ATV Hong Kong), is a member of The White Crane Martial Arts Group International and is a keen scuba diver. Sharon has supported charities such as Lifeline Express, Youth Outreach, Make A Wish Foundation, and Prevent Child Sexual Abuse to name a few. A member of The Society of Women Geographers, ambassador for SPCA H.K., Hong Kong Cetacean Research Project, and Bloom, Sharon is also Director of WildAid HK, Mission Blue, and Executive Director of the AquaMeridian Conservation & Education Foundation, which is a registered non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness of conservation issues globally, starting with Hong Kong.

Marine Life & Conservation

Parineeti Chopra teams up with PADI to create Ocean Change

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PADI® is thrilled to announce an exceptional PADI AmbassaDiver™: Indian actress, singer and PADI Advanced Open Water Diver Parineeti Chopra.

“A PADI AmbassaDiver is someone who is passionate about using their force for good to encourage others to protect our blue planet,” says Kristin Valette Wirth, Chief Brand and Membership Officer. “We could not have found a more respected and authentic partner as Ms. Chopra, a long time ocean lover, to advance our shared mission of saving the ocean. She is unmatched as a shining example of how to protect what you love – and inspire others to do the same.”

Chopra, who has always loved the ocean, experienced the magic beneath the surface in 2013 when she took her first breath underwater in Bali. As soon as she surfaced from that dive, she was hooked – and protecting the ocean became very personal for her, receiving her PADI Open Water Diver certification later that year in Palau. Since then, she has inspired others around the world, from her family and friends to fans in India– to try scuba diving so they can join her in seeking adventure and saving the ocean.

“The first time I came up to the surface after diving, I was crying because it was such a life-changing experience,” says Ms. Chopra. “It is now something I can’t live without. I make sure I do a diving trip every three months despite my work schedule because it is my form of meditation. And it is the place I am immensely passionate about protecting.”

“We are all equal underwater and all speak the same language. Over the years I have seen the changes that have taken place beneath the surface. During my time as a brand ambassador for Tourism Australia, I witnessed the bleaching and damage that has occurred to the Great Barrier Reef.  I was so sad to see this and am now committed to being a diver with a purpose. I have also seen first-hand how marine reserves, like the ones in Sipadan, Malaysia and Palau, prove how valuable marine protected areas are. As a PADI Diver, I want to make sure that our entire blue planet gets the protection it deserves.” continues Ms. Chopra.

With over 67 million social media followers and having recently starred in the Netflix movie The Girl on the Train, Chopra joins an elite group of celebrity influencers determined to take personal action and create real change for healthier oceans. Spending nearly all her free time diving around the world, Chopra shares her love for the ocean with her fans, as diving is an important part of her life that allows her to return to nature and reset. She will work with PADI to encourage others to experience the beautiful world underwater as PADI Divers and join her in helping to achieve balance between humanity and the ocean.

“PADI created the AmbassaDiver programmeme to support extraordinary divers who dedicate their lives to illuminating the path that leads from curiosity, exploration, and discovery to understanding, stewardship and action. Ms. Chopra is playing a very important role in ocean conservation, lighting the way for others to become divers themselves and mobilising communities worldwide to seek adventure and save the ocean with her,” continues Valette Wirth.

Ms. Chopra has big plans for 2022 – including becoming a real-life PADI Mermaid and taking part in citizen science projects during her dive trips around the world. Follow Chopra’s dive adventures, projects and hands-on conservation efforts with PADI on her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

To learn more about Chopra and the rest of the PADI AmbassaDiver team visit www.padi.com/ambassadivers.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK land the prize catch at the Fishing News Awards

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The charity Ghost Fishing UK was stunned to win the Sustainability Award.

The winners were selected by a panel of industry judges and the award recognises innovation and achievement in improving sustainability and environmental responsibility within the UK or Irish fishing industries in 2021.

Nominees must have demonstrated a unique and innovative response to an environmental sustainability issue within the UK or Irish industry, demonstrating that the project has gone above and beyond standard practice, and provided evidence of its impact. The judges look particularly for projects that have influenced a significant change in behaviour and/or that have inspired broader awareness and/or engagement.

Ghost Fishing UK originated in 2015, training voluntary scuba divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear, with the aim to either return it to the fishing industry or recycle it. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and has gone from strength to strength, only last year winning the Best Plastic Campaign at the Plastic Free Awards.

Now, the charity has also been recognised at seemingly the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a unique achievement as trustee Christine Grosart explains;

We have always held the belief that working with the fishing industry is far more productive than being against it, in terms of achieving our goals to reduce and remove lost fishing gear.

The positive response to our fisheries reporting system that we received from both the fishing industry and the marine environment sector, was evidence that working together delivers results.

The feedback we got from the awards evening and the two-day Scottish Skipper Expo where we had an exhibit the following day, was that the fishing industry despises lost fishing gear as much as we do and the fishers here are very rarely at fault. It is costly to them to lose gear and they will make every effort to get it back, but sometimes they can’t. That is where we come in, to try to help. Everyone wins, most of all the environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Following the awards, Ghost Fishing UK held an exhibit at the Scottish Skipper expo at the new P&J Live exhibition centre in Aberdeen.

This gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so many people in the fishing industry, all of whom were highly supportive of our work and wanted to help us in any way they could. This has opened so many opportunities for the charity and our wish list which has been on the slow burner for the last 7 years, was exceeded in just 3 days. We came away from the events exhausted, elated, humbled, grateful and most of all, excited.”

Trustee and Operations Officer, Fred Nunn, is in charge of the diving logistics such as arranging boats and organising the divers, who the charity trains in house, to give up their free time to volunteer.

He drove from Cornwall to attend the awards and the exhibition: “What a crazy and amazing few days up in Scotland! It was awesome to meet such a variety of different people throughout the industry, who are all looking at different ways of improving the sustainability and reduction of the environmental impact of the fishing industry.

It was exciting to have so many people from the fishing industry approaching us to find out more about what we do, but also what they could offer. Fishermen came to us with reports and offers of help, using their vessels and other exhibitors tried to find ways that their product or service could assist in our mission.”

  • Ghost Fishing UK uses hard boat charters from Cornwall to Scotland for the diving projects, paying it forward to the diving community.
  • The charity relies on reports of lost fishing gear from the diving and fishing community and to date has received well over 200 reports, culminating on over 150 survey and ghost gear recovery dives, amounting to over 1000 individual dives and diver hours by the volunteer team members.
  • You can find more information at ghostfishing.co.uk
  • If you are a fisher who knows of any lost fishing gear, you can report it to the charity here: ghostfishing.co.uk/fishermans-reporting
  • The charity is heading to Shetland for a week-long project in the summer of 2023. If you would like to support this project, please contact them at: info@ghostfishing.co.uk

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK and professional technical diving instructor Dr Richard Walker was immensely proud of the team’s achievements;

I’ve been a scuba diver since 1991 and have met thousands of divers in that time. I’d be hard pushed to think of one of them that wasn’t concerned about conservation of our marine environment. To be recognised by the fishing industry for our efforts in sustainability is a huge honour for us, and has encouraged our team to work even harder to find, survey and remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The fact that the fishing industry recognises our efforts, and appreciates our stance as a group that wants to work alongside them is one of the highlights of our charity’s history, and we look forward to building the relationship further.

To find out more about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website here.


All images: Ghost Fishing UK

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